James Dashner continues his dystopian exploration of virtual reality and gaming in this action-packed but ultimately unsatisfying second novel in the young adult Mortality Doctrine trilogy. The Rule of Thoughts starts immediately after The Eye of Minds’ cliffhanger ending, with Michael recovering from barely surviving the masterplan of cyber-terrorist, Kaine, to take over VirtNet. Michael is the first of Kaine’s ‘tangents’ – sentient computer programs – to be successfully downloaded into human bodies. Along with his gamer friends, Sarah and Bryson, Michael struggles to defeat his creator’s plan and to save both the virtual world and the physical world from disaster.
While Dashner delivers his signature style of plot-heavy adventure, this disappointing novel doesn’t fulfil its intriguing premise. Despite ongoing twists, the suspense never comes alive. Unlike in his Maze Runner series, Dashner’s speculative logic and characterisation aren’t coherently thought through. Michael starts the novel thinking that physical reality feels exactly like his cyber existence but he later decides for unspecified reasons that it doesn’t feel the same and this tantalising issue is never raised again. Dashner attempts to raise the stakes with a rollercoaster of life-and-death encounters but the characters remain unengaging and almost interchangeable. Dashner’s fans will have to read this middle novel to familiarise themselves with plot content before the final novel, The Game of Lives, is published in mid 2015. However, they’ll have to wait until then to see whether Dashner successfully achieves a depth of storytelling and, therefore, the full potential of this trilogy.